What is the emerging church?


I promised some notes from my time at the Evangelical Alliance the other day, and they are below. I had a great, time and a very warm reception from the group who met to listen and then question/discuss after my input.

My topic was 'The Emerging Church?'. I had 20 minutes to present, and I think took 15 and approached it this way:

1. Values o No More Our Best and Their Worst: So many critiques, and assessments are made by taking the worst of what we are looking at and measuring it with the best of what we have. That has been done to evangelicals regularly, and is unfair, and also unfair for us to do that to the emerging church. There is much about the emerging church that might not appeal to us, but we need to look for the best in it, not the worst in order to make any valuable assessment (I have written on this before). So I will be talking about Emerging church 'at it's best' today.

o Emergent is not the Emerging Church: Emergent is not the emerging church. Emergent is very involved with the emerging church, but is not by any means a group that talks on behalf of it, is a small part of the emerging church conversation, and is connected the larger church in different ways, and the names can be confusing. Emergent is international, and has a UK flavor that is indigenous and not a US import. My perspective is limited, but in planting a church, in my doctoral research on emerging church, culture and theology and from my travels/speaking, and in co-cordinating Emergent UK, I want to share from that experience. I also do not presume to speak on behalf of Emergent, but my views might have more in common with others involved with it as an organisation/network. (I have written more before on the history of Emergent in the UK, and how Emergent is not the same as the Emerging church despite similar names). And with the brevity of this presentation, my overview is simplistic, inaccurate, and there is much more to the Emerging Church.

o My Heritage I value my evangelical heritage. My evangelicalism, got me into this, I am into this not despite that experience but because of it for reasons that are positive, that I will explore here today. For many the emerging church is a post-church, post-denominational, protesting, leaving evangelicalism stream, but as we'll see, I think it is much broader, and far more positive in it's scope with several other streams.

o A Shared Problem And rather than defining the emerging church by what it is not, by what it is against, by what it is at it's worst, as we look at it, at it's best, I think it is addressing a shared problem.

When I converted to Christ, I was taught that Jesus is Lord and Savior. Yet church has been producing Christians who have Christ as savior to go to heaven but not engaged in mission, or church, not whole life disciples. At it’s best the emerging church believes in a passionate whole of life commitment to Jesus, and wrestling with why this is not happening in our emerging and post-modern contexts.

We have this problem in common, although many of us are exploring it differently, and there is no one correct response, indeed the shared problem, and the working of many groups, denominations, streams and groups together, the exploration of this together is one of the most wonderful aspects of the Emerging church for me. And we might get a taste of that exploration today, as we talk, question and discuss.

At it’s best, as the Emerging church attempts to address this shared problem, it is an examination of: o Message: What we believe, in the light of our emerging cultural changes. o Mediums: Then the ways we communicate what we believe. o Market Place: And the places we inhabit and work out what we believe.

Lets take them one at a time by example

2. Message Is Christianity really just about information to get to heaven? Why are our gospel presentations so often reduce to this? Why do we try to argue people into conversion with propositions, when the engine of their lives are not propositional beliefs.

Where are where we are not despite what we believe but because of what we believe. That necessitates theological reflection on our message and beliefs.

Just like the reformers, who faced the church and culture, just like european vangelicals dealt with issues of social justice, just like evangelicals response to the Christological heart failure of the liberal church, to bring Jesus back to people, the theological task of the church is not over, it is ongoing, and…

The emerging church at it’s best is engaging in the task of theological reflection for our changing world and culture, wrestling with issues that are deeply challenging, to enable people to hear the Gospel.

3. Mediums: We live in a visual age, post-literate age, we are finding we need to communicate with narrative and story, and image, metaphors to convey reality, and help people form belief. We also live in the information age, with the emergence of new digital media, that we need to use for our mediums. We need to be 'media alchemists', with post modern-scientific methods of metaphorical and literal transmutation of our beliefs into mediums that incarnate the reality of Jesus to our culture.

Rather than lots of words and explanations, of truths we are finding that… • The largest truth of all is an image, Christ on the Cross. • The church was at the forefront of technological and new media development, and we need to be so today.

At it’s best the emerging church is exploring, and extending as the church always has, the mediums of our culture for communication of our beliefs.

4. Marketplace We have the problem of church on a Sunday being the only place for God, or faith, with withdrawal from the world, and the sacred and secular divide. On the other hand we have problem of Christians seeing Sundays as the last place for God and church, which is just as bad in that, when everything is church, nothing is church.

Christianity has to be engaging in the public world, in social spaces of everyday life, in the more private places of congregations and in the intimate spaces of personal lives and small groups.

Just as the evangelical church has been about the reality of mission invading and transforming every part of life and society...at it’s best the Emerging church is wrestling with how we bring the whole life discipleship to all those spaces.

5. What does that Look Like? It is very different in many places...but might include:

• A gospel message of biblical conversion to Christ, his mission to the world, and through his church, beyond simplistic propositions, but in language and forms people can connect to. A message that naturally leads to mission, social justice, care of each other, and growth of the self in faith and relationship to Christ.

• And that message is incarnated with use of the media tools of our culture, to connect, with images, audio visuals, questions and participations, creativity and expression.

• And the habit, the natural life and growth that this produces, is of a people who live in community, and engaged in the world, in it’s multiple spaces.

For Anglicans they might call this ‘Fresh Expressions’, for others it is ‘Alternative Worship’, for some it is about being ‘missional’, for others it is about ‘intentional discipleship’. At their best, these re-thought messages, in new and old mediums in multiple spaces are ‘the emerging church’.

And as many of us engage in these issues, of message, mediums and marketplace, in different ways, to varying degrees, within the varied contexts we find ourselves in, the emerging church is a multifarious narrative weaving many contextual and missional stories into a missional movement.

6. Story of my conversion Andy Hickford my youth pastor couldn’t find ‘journey into life’ to explain Christianity to me, and used his won words. Whilst it's a great tool, to use with many people, I am glad that at the age of nearly 17, he used an explanation about Christianity, that said my life might much harder, but I could have a life of passion, adventure, whole life engagement, in the family of the church, and involvement in mission. I signed up for this, and am still pursuing this.

So for me I am into these things because I am an evangelical, the best of which I understand as being called to whole life commitment to Christ, His Cause & Mission and His People/The Church.